Acquitted of charges, but still in jail

Three red-shirt defendants have been kept in jail without bail for 16 months now, despite the fact that their case has already been dismissed by the court in Bangkok last week. 

On 25 Aug, Phra Khanong Provincial Court dismissed all charges against Naruemon Warunrungroj, Surachai Nilsopha and Chatree Srichinda, citing that evidence was not credible and giving them the benefit of the doubt.

On the following day, their lawyer Winyat Chatmontri made a request for bail, also bringing Pheu Thai MPs to guarantee the bail with their parliamentarian positions.  The Appeals Court, however, has yet to make any decision, pending the public prosecutor’s decision to appeal the case within one month.  Their bail requests had been denied three times before by the Court of First Instance.

They were arrested on 3 May 2010 and charged with illegal possession of 5 AK47 machine guns, one M16 rifle, fireworks, carbines, Molotov cocktails, bombs and nearly a thousand rounds of ammunition.

A supporter of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party, Naruemon, 52, came out to protest the coup in 2006, joining the anti-coup group Saturday People against Dictatorship which held activities at Sanam Luang on Saturdays.  She used to be a vegetable vendor and later sold herbs and produced shampoo for dogs, as she herself is a dog lover living alone with her own 7 pet dogs.  Her husband, a police officer, died in 1992.

Naruemon Warunrungroj

Naruemon told Prachatai during a visit at the Central Women’s Correctional Institution that she had got to know the other defendants Surachai and Chatree at protest rallies in 2009. 

Surachai, 33, was a taxi driver and a red shirt.  She always hired him to drive her to the rallies, and they became close friends.

She met Chatree, 28, who ran an orchard and sold dog clothes at red-shirt rallies, when she bought some clothes for her dogs.

All of them met again at rallies in 2010.

On the day of the arrest, they arrived at Naruemon’s house from a protest rally at about 4.30 am.  Surachai and Chatree took a nap there, planning to go home later that morning.

At about 9 am, approximately 30 armed military troops raided the house and arrested them. 

They were taken into separate cars and driven around for a long while, before being brought back to the house.

According to Surachai, he was asked by the soldiers while in the car about the whereabouts of the weapons.  When he said that he did not know, they pounded his chest with their hands and repeated the question.  They asked the question and pounded on his chest about 20 times.

Back at the house, when he was taken to the bedroom, he saw weapons and ammunition piled inside the house.

The soldiers asked him again with the same question, and when he repeated the same answer he was kicked and fell to the ground.  Handcuffed behind his back, he was repeatedly stamped on the back and face.

Afterwards he was taken out of the bedroom, now handcuffed at the front.  The soldiers had him hold a canister of tear gas, and took his picture.  They then had him point to the pile of weapons and took another picture.

He said that all the while he had no time to think of anything, and never had a chance to ask why he was arrested.  He was not shown any arrest or search warrants, and was not told whether he could contact any friends, relatives or lawyers.  If it had been allowed, he would not have contacted anybody anyway for fear that they would get into trouble, he said.

All three of them were taken to the 11th Infantry Regiment in the late afternoon where they were detained separately for interrogation.  He was interrogated at a place which looked like a petrol depot where there were about 20 200-liter oil drums with a strong smell of petrol in the air.

One soldier asked him questions and two others took notes.  He was asked about the weapons and was threatened that if he did not cooperate with them, he would be stuffed into an oil drum, gagged and soaked with gasoline.  So he tried to answer every question as well as he could.

He did tell them the truth about counterfeiting his car’s license plate.  He explained that at the protest rallies it was rumoured that some people were writing down red shirt car license numbers to hunt them down.  So he had to use a counterfeit plate for safety.

He was made to sign papers which he was not allowed time to read, and then was sent to the Department of Special Investigation that night.

According to ‘Pa Ninja’, the cyber alias of a member of the now defunct Saturday People against Dictatorship group, Naruemon told her during one of her visits to the prison that on the day of the arrest the neighbours who had come out to see what was going on were threatened by the soldiers with guns to go back home, so no one knew what really happened there.

The soldiers took them away, then brought them back to the house, and found the weapons and ammunition stuffed inside a golf bag hidden in a sewage pipe outside of the house.  In fact, the sewage pipe was only 14 cms in diameter, and could in no way accommodate a golf bag, Pa Ninja said.

‘According to the witness hearings, no latent finger prints [of the defendants] have been found on the weapons. Only one witness testified to seeing Naruemon with long hair to the shoulder, but, in fact, she always had short hair,’ Pa Ninja said.

While the defendants were charged with illegal possession of weapons, the court hearings of prosecution witnesses implicated them in having fired at a military helicopter.

One prosecution witness told the court that on 10 April 2010 at about 5 pm the witness saw a group of 4 people riding in a Honda CRV and parking near Khlong Mahanak, not far from where the red shirts were gathering.  Two men were seen to be carrying weapons and one of them firing at a military helicopter which was flying in that area for about 3 seconds, before getting back into the car and leaving the scene.

A staff member of the People’s Information Centre, who has followed up the case, made the observation that if that really was the case, why were they not charged with attempted murder.



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